After the positive hype created by the Lotus F1 experience, which saw Formula 1 hopeful and World Series By Renault contender Marlon Stockinger drive an F1 car around the streets of Manila a week earlier, Philippine motorsports took a huge blow as professional Filipino racers who were slated to compete in an "international NASCAR racing event" were unable to do so due to an apparent misrepresentation.
Filipino racers Michele Bumgarner, Pia Boren and Gaby dela Merced, who are all featured in the May issue of Top Gear Philippines, as well as karting champion Stefano Marcelo and hill-climb serial titlist Carlos Anton (top photo), were all set for the supposed NASCAR Racing Experience World Circuit 2013 event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, USA, last May 8 and 9 when they found out from RaceEX officials that there was no race meet scheduled on the days they were to compete.
The situation was exacerbated when the organizer of the event, Singapore-based Filipino Paul Monozca, allegedly borrowed money from the drivers to pay for their lodging and other expenses. According to the drivers, these should have been covered by Monozca's Spirit Program, which was supposed to fund half of the team's costs.
The story started to unravel for the team on May 11, when the Philippine Daily Inquirer broke the news detailing the disappointment of the Philippine team. According to the story, Monozca, the "sports philanthropist" who invited the Philippine contingent to race against drivers from 12 other countries, failed to deliver on his promise to hold a racing event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and instead gave the group a NASCAR racing introduction class fit for mere tourists.
"What a disaster," Stefano Marcelo tweeted on his personal Twitter account on May 9 as it became clear to the team that the race they had signed up and paid for would not materialize.
"I would like to officially advise that I have withdrawn from the team effective Tuesday evening for personal reasons and am no longer in Charlotte," said Michele Bumgarner on her Twitter page also on May 9. According to the PDI story, Michele was the first driver to withdraw after her father, Lee Bumgarner, decided not to let her continue following an argument with Monozca.
"While I am disappointed that I was not able to do what I came here to do, I am still happy that I got to drive on the said track, and that has opened doors, which got me in touch with the NASCAR people themselves for the opportunity to race here come August or September," said a more somber Pia Boren as she sent out her official statement over her Facebook page.
Gaby dela Merced, herself no stranger to financial controversies in racing, posted this on her Facebook page: "When given an opportunity to do something you are passionate about, you take it. The world of NASCAR is unchartered. Promises were made and expectations were unmet. S*** simply happens in life. While things didn't go as planned, what matters is how you take the next step. This trip did get us in touch directly with the right people in NASCAR, which opened new avenues."
Local racing veteran Carlos Anton was more circumspect about the turn of events. In an exclusive video interview with Top Gear Philippines upon his return on May 13, he revealed how the team was able to cope with the fiasco. "It was pretty devastating not only for me but for the rest of my teammates," shared Anton as they attempted to deal with the developments at the time. (Watch the video below after the article.)
"Mr. Monozca has given us some checks to pay us everything," said Anton, who is eyeing to have the drivers' money returned as a first step in resolving the issue. Monozca has allegedly requested to have the check he issued Anton and Marcelo encashed on May 27, 2013, after signing it off for the 9th of May.
Meanwhile, Monozca maintains that he is as much of a victim of the circumstances as the drivers whom he brought to Charlotte. In a statement released by Monozca, he claims it was the NASCAR RacEX officials who are to blame for the failure to hold the race after e-mails were supposedly unanswered by the American company's representatives. "I could clearly see that this event was not even coordinated properly in their organization until the last minute," says Monozca. "I have apologized to the team profusely for this incident and am committed to making things right. However, I myself have still not been given a proper dialogue with the team after this, so we are meeting soon to discuss the way forward."
There are always three sides to a story: both parties' and the truth. Watch the full interview of Carlos Anton for his take on the race that never was, and read Paul Monozca's full statement.
Top photo of Carlos Anton by Mikko David
Charlotte photos (below) by Paul Monozca
If you're viewing this on a mobile device and can't see the video, please click here.
Official statement from Paul Monozca
The Monozca Foundation has prided itself on providing assistance to various athletes for education, training and competition since 2003. We have done this numerous times in basketball, golf, soccer and now racing.
For the past three years, I have been searching for a unique opportunity to bring the first Filipino(s) in a Top 3 global racing brand. As F1 was too expensive, I looked into NASCAR and Indy in the United States. I first made my trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, in January 2010, which was the home of NASCAR. I was toured at its Charlotte Motor Speedway and was impressed by the facilities provided by the NASCAR Racing Experience Co. where they had race cars stationed inside the speedway and was running racing events regularly using Sprint Cup cars. This was the start of two years of work to send the first Filipinos in NASCAR.
Just this year, I decided it was time to execute the initiative and appointed the NASCAR Racing Experience Co. formally to provide a race for 12 countries participating at Charlotte. I asked the advice of Mike Potenciano on who we can send as I needed two drivers. Mike, a veteran in the motoring world in the Philippines, felt that if we opened up to more drivers, this could be a unique effort to unite the motoring fraternity. I agreed.
We invited drivers to attend the briefing held at The Fort this year and they came from all over. My deal was simple: I undertake half and the drivers have to undertake the other half on a shared-fund basis. Everyone agreed and I signed letters of intent from the drivers. Of course, our basis of selection also was track record and popularity among sponsors so they could raise their part via sponsorships, if required.
Each driver had to share in the cost amounting to P1.6 million each (they were allowed up to eight sponsors each), and this included a full-year program of not only the main event but sub-events for sponsors in the Philippines, television coverage locally and internationally, merchandising and licensing, training, airfare, accommodations, meals, public relations, etc. Only one driver fulfilled this requirement; the rest was assisted by their sponsors and our foundation.
Those who signed up were Carlos Anton, Mike Potenciano, Stefano Marcelo, Tyson Sy, Gaby dela Merced, Pia Boren and Michelle Bumgarner. It was an all-star cast but we had to put Mike and Tyson on the reserve list as they had political campaign commitments. We only started to go full-blast this year.
I asked permission from Heather Lutz of the NASCAR RaceEX Co. to name the event as the NASCAR Racing Experience World Circuit and made it clear through numerous e-mails and phone calls that this was a real race with top international drivers participating. She agreed in an e-mail, and we continued to communicate.
This year, I also requested Derik Crotts of RevRacing and a representative of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program to be involved with their Team USA. RevRacing produced top drivers in the K&N and Whelan development circuits of NASCAR and also produced drivers who are now with the established Sprint Cup. RevRacing fielded in five top drivers, including Mark Green, a NASCAR nationwide driver.
Other countries were invited and those who responded were Australia, Singapore, Korea and a European team. Please note that Team USA had roots from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, etc. Hongkong was invited but never responded.
The event, which was originally slated for April 28, 2013, had to be moved to July 26, 2013, due to preparations on the Philippine side for more time. The change of date may have affected the participation of the Korean and Australian drivers but was a decision to be made as the Philippine team had five drivers. However, the RaceEX side approved May 9 as per the availability of the speedway and its cars, and availability also of the US team. The team was ready, and although sponsors spread their sponsorships over months, I agreed to hold it on May 9. I also pushed for the team to arrive via Philippine Airlines instead of a foreign airline.
From here, the team went on a PR campaign for the sponsors with the official drivers launch held at the 7th High club at The Fort. All went well.
We departed for Charlotte via Los Angeles on May 4 via Philippine Airlines. We stayed at the Wingate Hotel in Charlotte near the speedway. Upon arrival, Derik Crotts told me that he had met with the RaceEX Co. and that they were not going to be able to organize a real race for us. After all the preparations, I became confused and stressed. When an e-mail to Heather about practice sessions on May 7 or 8 was unanswered, I started to panic more. I was not getting direct answers from RaceEX. Most of all, they brought in a senior person named Pat (after two years of dealing with them), and Pat said that we were only allowed 2,000 spectators. So, I could clearly see that this event was not even coordinated properly in their organization till the last minute.
This does not include that RaceEX has seen our poster where it mentions a competition against 12 countries with sponsors--never did they give me an e-mail or call to stop the event.
I called off key suppliers to cut costs and mentioned to the European team about the situation and asked them if they were open to other formats of competition on that day. They said they would think about it and would arrive nearer to the date but canceled at the last minute.
The first few days at Charlotte went well with simulation training and pit-stop demonstrations at the RevRacing facility and instructional sessions with various personnel. At this time, I did not know how to break it to the Philippine team as we had traveled a long way and I felt that by at least attending the time trials, it would prove something and a reschedule of the race could be done as an option with another party.
I was hoping that RaceEX would respond to my queries on the practice rounds especially a day before the main race day, and to my surprise, the speedway mentioned that it was being painted and no practice was allowed. We ended up touring the facilties inside instead.
On race day, May 9, we entered Gate 26 of the Charlotte Motor Speedway and were told to go to the race area. Our drivers were told to suit up and proceed to the briefing room where the US team also attended. It ended as a Team USA vs. Team Asia with Singapore joining the Philippines. Till today, I am trying to figure out why--if RaceEX approved the event title into the "NASCAR Racing Experience World Circuit"--they would show videos of a thrill ride in the briefing room.
After formalities, the drivers were asked to go to the racing area, and there were six NASCAR Sprint Cup cars which they said had limiters, so speeds would be controlled till the final time-trial run. Upon seeing this, I pulled the key coordinator (Steve) of RaceEX aside and told him that this was not what we had signed up for and he had to give us a race for 10 cars, but he said he only implemented what their office had instructed them to do. I called Heather in her office and she was out of town on that day together with her husband and their senior manager. With all the stress, I then cut down the event into half a day to cut costs so we could reschedule it.
But it was too late: John Marcelo, Stefano's dad, came to me and told me that this was not what they had signed up for. I asked him if we could just go through the time trials as we were already here and we could reschedule a race, but emotions were high and all they wanted was to confront the RaceEX Co. After the time trials, we all went to the RaceEX office and, true enough, the key decision makers were out of town. This was the ultimate letdown.
The next day, we were able to meet Heather Lutz and their senior vice president, and she denied any form of misrepresentation. Instead of bringing up key points, I knew that we were not there to create enemies, but (especially for me) to just communicate the disappointment as we were new in the NASCAR world.
Here are the key points for consideration:
1. Approved agreement dated April 26, 2013, and annex proposal showing commitment of two rounds of 30-lap races.
2. Key e-mail correspondence reminding RaceEX that we were doing a real race.
3. Approval of the event name "NASCAR Racing Experience World Circuit."
4. E-mail in which they saw our poster via Yahoo showing it was to be a competition between countries, and which they did not stop although they corrected taglines.
5. Approval of the national team jacket where the RaceEX logo was to be placed.
6. E-mail mentioning that they couldn't hold a 10-car race but could split the event into two groups of five cars each. Again, they clearly saw we needed a race but they continued to communicate correcting or repositioning the format.
7. E-mail mentioning the budget of our year-long program at close to $295,000 per year just for RaceEX only. One event would cost around $30,000.
8. As for the use of the Racing Experience logo, it was made clear to me that once we paid up, we could use it for our materials including announcements. We paid.
9. Why would they let us share the track on that day with another group?
10. Why would a senior person like Pat only be brought in with the rules nearing the date of competition? He should have come forward earlier.
11. Why were they all out of town when they knew I even asked via e-mail for an awarding ceremony where a senior representative from their company had to be present?
12. Till today, despite two e-mails already, I have still not received the results of the time trials where I heard Carlos Anton did very well. Stefano Marcelo was not allowed to drive as his driver's license had been expired for a year, and a driver's license was a requirement.
This situation should have been handled in a more peaceful manner. But again, as I said, emotions were high. I have apologized to the team profusely for this incident and am committed to making things right. However, I myself have still not been given a proper dialogue with the team after this, so we are meeting soon to discuss the way forward.
For someone who has put his name on this racing team and as a Filipino, this is very hard for me. It is hard to be portrayed in a manner that is not true at all as I have always had sincere intentions to play a role in the sport.
One story I read was that I borrowed money from Carlos and John for expenses. Let me correct this: One of the Philippine team members (whose name I am protecting) was not able to pay the share of commitment, and I asked Carlos and John to help out. Shouldn't team members be able to help one another? Anyway, I ended up covering for this team member also. Carlos can confirm that I had P250,000 wired to his card at 3am to cover for the team member. I had it deposited to his card as I carried a debit card with a limit.
Please bear in mind that sponsors spread their sponsorships throughout the year so the bulk of expenses were paid by my side.
I have a 20-year track record in sports, and am a Singapore government awardee. I am also not new to bringing national teams to compete overseas. It is unlikely of me to put myself in a situation to fool people if I myself was not misled. In 20 years of my life in Singapore, we've followed a straight path.
I have already announced that the team has to go back to Charlotte, and I thank RevRacing for assisting this time to have them in a NASCAR Whelan Race, an official developmental racing circuit of NASCAR. This is the only way to redeem the credibility of the team and my own name. I have started preparations and have asked all team members for their support. This time around, it will be fully funded by our program and sponsors without any of the team members sharing half of the cost.
As for racing in the Philippines, I find it to be a very cruel world. However, there are those who believe in what I do, and I will finish the advocacy as I had set out to do. I want to thank all the patrons and sponsors who share this sentiment.
I ask of the journalist who wrote about it in a bad way to give me the opportunity to explain my side before she writes anything again and not be biased about it to achieve balanced reporting. Besides, why would I approve a journalist on the team at my cost if I was hiding anything?
I was the last to leave the hotel flying back to Manila. If I intended to do something wrong, I would have jumped ship earlier. I am now busy answering numerous e-mails from media, and as a very private person, I am showing that I am communicating to clear my name.
I have also reimbursed all team members on whatever they have spent to show my sincerity, although my commitment was only half of the cost. Let's look forward to Team Philippines in the NASCAR Whelan Race.